Section I: Introduction
Section II: Issei: East To America
Section III: The Decision To Imprison A People
Section IV: Life Behing Barbed Wire: The Internment Experience
Section V: Japanese Americans In The War: The Battlefield Connection
Section VI: The Quest for Justice
The following text was taken from the original traveling exhibit "A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and The United States Constitution" in 1994.
Two centuries after its creation, the United States Constitution remains the most successful frame of government ever devised. "Every word of the Constitution decides a question between power and liberty," wrote James Madison in 1792, and his words resonate today. This exhibition looks at one American community whose members were stripped of their homes, property, and Constitutional rights in World War II, in the name of national defense.
Early in 1942, almost 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry—most of them U. S. citizens -were forced from their homes and into federal detention camps. Most spent the war behind barbed wire and under armed guard in remote areas. There were no formal accusations, no search for evidence, no trials. Japanese Americans were assumed guilty of potential disloyalty solely on the basis of race.
Some turned to the courts to enforce their Constitutional rights, but in 1944 the Supreme Court largely upheld the government's actions. The banishment of Japanese Americans to detention camps in wartime shows how swiftly Constitutional safeguards can be jettisoned when racial prejudice, public pressure, and fear act together in time of national crisis.
"The Japanese in California should be under armed guard to the Last man and woman right now—and to hell with habeas corpus."
Westbrook Pegler, nationally syndicated columnist, 1942
In The Federalist, Number 51, James Madison described the fundamental challenge facing any constitutional democracy—to create a government that can regulate the affairs of citizens and regulate itself as well:
"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external or internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this— you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself "
The first draft of the Constitution was printed and distributed to members of the Convention for comment early in August 1787. This copy belonged to David Brearly (1745-1790), a New Jersey delegate. The notes are in his hand.
"Every Word... decides a question between power and liberty.
James Madison, 1792
"Our Constitution is so simple and practical that it is possible always to meet the extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form. That is why our constitutional system bas proved itse4Cthe most superbly enduring political mechanism the modern world bas produced.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933
"You may think that the Constitution is your security—it is nothing but a piece of paper. You may think that the statutes are your security—they are nothing but words in a book. You may think that elaborate mechanism of government is your security—it is nothing at all, unless you have sound and uncorrupted public opinion to give life to your Constitution, to give vitality to your statutes, to make efficient your government machinery."
Charles Evan Hughes, Chief Justice, U.S. Supreme Court
The Fourth Amendment
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. "
The Fourteenth Amendment, 1868
'All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. "
ISSEI: EAST TO AMERICA
Between 1861 and 1940, about 275,000 Japanese immigrated to Hawaii and the American mainland. Most Issei—the immigrant generation—arrived between 1898 and 1924, the year that the United States ended Asian immigration. Barred from U.S. citizenship since 1900, the Issei also were barred from land ownership in California and other western states. They faced prejudice in newspaper editorials, in segregated schools, in employment, and in other aspects of daily life.
But Japanese Americans persisted, developing their communities and pursuing educational and business opportunities. By 1940 many had deep roots in America, and contributed significantly to the West Coast economy. Issei owned homes, businesses, and farms, all held in the names of their American-born children who were automatically U.S. citizens and able to own property.
Like other immigrants, many Issei retained a regard for their Japanese homeland and traditions. Their children, the Nisei generation born in the United States, considered themselves "the most loyal of all loyal Americans." But many watched uneasily as tensions between Japan and the United States increased during the 1930s.
EARLY IMMIGRATION TO THE UNITED STATES
The first large groups of Asian immigrants reaching Hawaii -a U.S. territory- and the United States in the late 19th century faced racial prejudice. In 1882 Congress passed a law excluding Chinese laborers from entering the country. Most Americans could not and did not distinguish between Chinese and Japanese.
In Hawaii, where large numbers of Japanese laborers had been recruited, the legislature passed restrictive laws against them, and attempted to attract people of other nationalities as laborers. In 1907 Congress forbade the immigration of Japanese from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland. By 1940 persons of Japanese ancestry accounted for almost 40 percent of the population of the Hawaiian Islands.
Most Japanese immigrants to the United States before 1907 settled on the West Coast and excelled in the cultivation of marginal lands. As successful farmers, fruit growers, fishermen, and small businessmen, their ability to do well with little and to overcome great odds made them objects of envy by some in the dominant white community. Set apart by their physical appearance, they became further isolated from the white mainstream as envy fed racial hostility.
Under the so-called Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907-08, Japan agreed to restrict the emigration of laborers to the United States. The United States in return agreed not to discriminate openly against Japanese residents. Ironically, President Theodore Roosevelt thus became the defender of Japanese rights in America.
Opponents of Japanese immigration claimed that Asians were ineligible for citizenship. Their opinion was based on an Act of Congress in the 1790s that limited naturalization to free whites and aliens of African descent. In 1922 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Hawaiian law that denied Japanese immigrants citizenship on those grounds. Asians were the last group of immigrants who were absolutely barred from U.S. citizenship.
In 1913 the California Assembly restricted land ownership to people eligible for citizenship, thereby excluding Japanese resident aliens from land ownership. In a 1924 act that set quotas on immigrants from many nations, the U.S. Congress violated the 1907 Gentleman's Agreement by banning altogether the immigration of peoples ineligible for U.S. citizenship, namely Asians. The act virtually eliminated Asian immigration and caused great resentment in Japan.
THE RISING SUN
Until the 1940s, few Americans had frequent contact with people of Japanese descent living in the United States. Most Americans formed their views of Japan and the Japanese from what they read in newspapers, magazines, and books, or heard from occasional speakers. Fear of japan's growing military power and prejudice against people who seemed different were common themes.
Japan's spectacular victory over Russia in the war of 1904-05 was the first defeat of a European power by an Asian nation in modern times. The outcome raised the pride of Japanese everywhere. Among white Americans, however, the rise of Japan on the world scene, the Japanese expansion into China after World War I, and the tradition of racial prejudice against Japanese led to fear of a future "yellow peril" and to predictions of eventual war.
THE DECISION TO IMPRISON A PEOPLE
Japan's alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in 1940 focused world attention on the Asian nation's military power and imperial ambition. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, stunned the United States, and fixed in many American minds the image of Japan as a treacherous nation. Fear of more attacks, even invasion, in the wake of Pearl Harbor made it seem acceptable, even patriotic, to challenge the loyalty of all Japanese Americans in the United States.
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing military authorities to exclude "any and all persons" from designated areas of the country when necessary for national defense. E.O. 9066 was the first step in a program that uprooted Americans of Japanese ancestry from their communities and placed them under armed guard for up to four years. Although some West Coast Japanese Americans expected that resident alien Japanese men would be rounded up and confined if war broke out with Japan, they were shocked that women, children, and American citizens of Japanese ancestry would also be moved ftom their homes and confined first in assembly centers and then in permanent camps. The Japanese American response to their imprisonment varied. Most community leaders recommended cooperation with authorities. Some sought to test the constitutionality of the program in the courts. Still others protested against the forced removal that violated guarantees of individual rights set forth in the Constitution.
For both Japan and America, World War 11 in the Pacific had ugly overtones of racial conflict. German or Italian troops might have been regarded by Americans as misguided victims of evil leaders but the Japanese were referred to in American popular culture as "yellow vermin," "mad dogs," and "monkey men." The effects of racist wartime propaganda on Americans of Japanese ancestry were devastating.
THE ORIGINS OF REMOVAL
Members of the War Department argued for removal of the Issei and their Nisei children from areas regarded as vital to national security. Officials were influenced by politicians from West Coast districts, where opposition to Japanese Americans ran high. The sentiment against removal, centered in the U.S. Justice Department and supported by some religious leaders and private individuals, was limited, muffled in the shrill demands for swift action.
"Their racial characteristics are such that we cannot under or trust even the citizen Japanese.
Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, 1942
'A patriotic native- born Japanese, if he wants to make his contribution, will submit himself into a concentration camp. "
Leland Ford, Congressman from California, 1942
OPPOSITION TO REMOVAL
Few advocates of civil liberty stepped forward to argue against the Japanese internment program. Dispensing with the basic constitutional rights of almost 120,000 Americans and resident aliens came quickly and with relative ease. Most Americans outside of the West Coast ignored or were unaware of the situation, their attention fixed on the war with Germany, Italy, and Japan.
The limited official opposition to removal centered in the U.S. Justice Department. Officials like Edward J. Ennis recognized that Japanese Americans were loyal, and spoke out against the injustice and danger of proposals for mass relocation. The FBI's J. Edgar Hoover opposed removal. Some religious leaders, particularly Quakers, and a few private citizens, such as Socialist leader Norman Thomas, also protested the program. Their voices, never very strong compared to those of the War Department staff, were drowned out by the rising clamor for action. Few traditional advocates of civil liberty stepped forward to argue that the internment program violated fundamental principles of constitutional law.
Officials in the War Department who favored the forced removal of Japanese Americans found President Franklin Roosevelt receptive to their cause. Rooseveles Executive Order 9066 went into effect on February 19, 1942. By the spring of 1942, it was clear that most Americans would ignore the plight of their fellow citizens of Japanese ancestry. For Japanese Americans, the Constitution ceased to exist for the duration of the war.
GOING OUT OF BUSINESS
For thousands of Japanese American homeowners and small businesses, moving out also meant selling out—quickly, and at an enormous loss. The total dollar value of the property loss has been estimated at as much as $1.3 billion. Net income losses may have been as high as $2.7 billion (both in 1983 dollars).
But the damage went beyond economic loss. Many Japanese Americans never fully recovered from the shock and trauma of the move, coupled as it was with the disruption of careers and economic upheaval.
Registration of all Americans of Japanese ancestry was the first step toward forced removal. In the spring of 1942, scenes like these were repeated in every Japanese American community along the Pacific Coast.
LIFE BEHIND BARBED WIRE: THE INTERNMENT EXPERIENCE
The War Relocation Authority (WRA) eventually housed 120,000 Japanese Americans in ten major camps in seven states. No two camps were quite alike, but all had one common feature—geographic isolation. Conditions at the camps varied from the heat and dust of Manzanar, Poston, and Gila River to the rains of Jerome and Rowher and the bitter winter cold of Heart Mountain and Minidoka. Individuals arriving at a camp were shocked to find that they would live behind barbed-wire fences, watched over by armed military police in guard towers.
The WRA also operated citizen isolation centers in Utah and Arizona where internees regarded as particularly difficult were "sentenced" to indeterminate "terms" without benefit of judge or jury. The Justice Department maintained additional camps for resident aliens.
Every camp had a vista or landmark that came to symbolize the place for the men, women, and children confined there. At Manzanar, it was the image of the mountains rising abruptly out of the California desert floor. Heart Mountain brooded above the Wyoming camp. At Topaz, Utah, people remembered three giant water towers, just inside the fence. The largest camp, Poston, in Arizona, held 20,000, and the smallest, at Granada, Colorado, 8,000.
THE GEOGRAPHY OF INTERNMENT
Temporary assembly centers were the first stop for most internees. Sixteen centers were established in California, Oregon, Washington State, and Arizona. Fairgrounds, racetracks, and other public facilities were pressed into service to handle the influx of Japanese Americans. They remained in these centers, under the control of the Army's Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA), until the War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps were ready.
Conditions in the WCCA assembly centers were unsanitary at best. At Tanforan and Santa Anita, California, internees were housed in stalls that only a week earlier had held horses. Sanitation, food service, and health-care facilities were beneath the lowest U.S. Army standards.
THE PERMANENT WAR RELOCATION AUTHORITY CAMPS
Life in the internment camps was difficult. Residents had been deprived of their most basic rights and this fact was never forgotten. The loss of parental authority, the absence of family eating arrangements in the mess halls, the lack of privacy, and other factors threatened traditional family life.
Artificial and traumatic as the camp experience was for Japanese Americans, life did go on. Scout troops, religious observances, schools, little theater companies, and athletic events helped ease the pain of living beneath the shadow of a watchtower. For many, the real measure of internment was found in the scores of small indignities endured each day. Taken together, their toll on family cohesion and on individual dignity and self-respect was enormous.
From 1942 to 1946, home for most Japanese Americans was one of ten WRA camps, all patterned on military facilities. Each was divided into a number of blocks housing 250 to 300 people. Each block consisted of 12 residential barracks, a mess hall, a central latrine and washroom, and a recreation hall.
Hastily built, with tar paper walls and no amenities, the barracks were hot in summer and cold in winter. Most did not meet minimal standards for military housing. A visiting judge noted that prisoners in federal penitentiaries were better housed.
"It was awfully hot out there [Poston, Arizona]."
" The floor had about an inch of space between the boards, wide enough for the grass under the house to grow through it."
Mine Okubo, Citizen 13660
"We were told to take only as much as we could carry in our two hands. How much could you carry in your two hands?'
"The Heart Mountain Camp was very cold. The coldest temperature which we experienced there was minus twenty-eight degrees. When one touched a doorknob, the skin would stick to the knob."
LIFE IN CAMP
Japanese American internees recreated community structures that helped them live as normal a life as possible. Civic associations, churches, Boy Scout troops, Parent Teacher Associations, dances, and athletic competitions helped to ease the monotony and anxiety. But life in the camps inevitably involved red tape and bureaucratic nightmares. Residents stood in lines for virtually every activity, and filled out forms (in triplicate) for every request. Meals were prepared and served in block mess halls, each handling from 250 to 300 internees.
"It is rather hard to say, but when a person is imprisoned in a camp surrounded by barbed wire—if he has no freedom, he loses all hope and gets to where he doesn't care anymore."
"The loss -of privacy was one of the great indignities suffered by evacuees."
'My small daughter and I used to eat at a table where two little boys ... ate with their mothers. They bad become so uncontrollable that the mothers gave up, and let them eat as they pleased. . . .
"We lined up for mail, for checks, for meals, for showers, for laundry tubs, for toilers, for clinic service, for movies. We lined up for everything."
Mine Okubo, Citizen 13660
As early as May 1942, camp residents who were willing to work as field laborers were offered seasonal furloughs. Later, individuals and families were offered permanent release to selected jobs outside military zones. Elaborate investigations of character and loyalty were required for participants in this work-release program. By 1943, 17,000 Japanese Americans had permanently left the WRA camps under the program.
Inside the camps, Japanese American internees disagreed among themselves about the best approach to take in dealing with the U.S. government. Those who argued for full cooperation with camp administrators clashed with others who favored resistance to the government programs. The divisions among internees had deep, bitter, and tragic consequences.
A QUESTION OF LOYALTY?
Early in 1943 all camp residents were told to complete one of two questionnaires. At the time, all citizens of Japanese ancestry were classified as 4-C, meaning enemy aliens. A selective service questionnaire was meant to distinguish between "loyal" and "disloyal" draft-age Nisei males. The other questionnaire was for all other residents. Some internees feared that even the satisfactory completion of this second form might be dangerous. If they were accepted as loyal, they feared that they might be forced to leave camp. Since they were forbidden by law to return to their homes in the West Coast military zones and had little money and no hope of finding work, they preferred to remain in camp.
The loyalty forms aggravated existing tensions among camp residents. Some trusted the government, while others suspected that trick questions would be used as a basis for segregation, family separation, or other forms of punishment. Many residents, dispossessed and locked away behind barbed wire, chose the loyalty questionnaires as the issue on which to take a stand.
Japanese American internees segregated on the basis of their answers to questions on the required forms, were to be sent to Tule Lake, California. Of the 18,422 people finally incarcerated at Tule Lake, 69 percent were citizens, most them minor children; 39 percent had requested repatriation or expatriation to Japan; 26 percent had answered the loyalty questionnaire "unsatisfactorily"; and 31 percent were family members of "troublemakers."
JAPANESE AMERICANS IN THE WAR: THE BATTLEFIELD CONNECTION
Some 25,000 Japanese Americans, many of whom had family and friends living in the internment camps, served in U.S. military units during World War 11. The extraordinary combat record of Japanese American troops—in particular, that of the combined I 00th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the contributions of Japanese American Military Intelligence Service language specialists—underscored the irony of wartime internment.
Praise from their comrades in arms and extensive news coverage of the bravery of Japanese American soldiers highlighted the injustice of the forced removal of civilians to the camps and helped to set the stage for postwar change.
But while Japanese American soldiers displayed their patriotism and valor abroad, the internment continued at home. Few images of civilian life in World War II are more poignant than that of the Japanese American gold star mother or wife—whose son or husband had died in action—living in an internment camp.
From October 1940 until the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Selective Service Commission classified Japanese American citizens as they did all other American citizens. After Pearl Harbor, citizens of Japanese ancestry were reclassified 4-C, enemy aliens. Even though classified as enemy aliens, some Nisei were later permitted to volunteer for military service.
In December 1943 it was announced that all Nisei would be reclassified and eligible for the draft. In all, 2,800 inductees were drawn from the camps in 1944 and 1945. Many young men viewed the action as a reinstatement of their rights as citizens and welcomed the opportunity to serve.
OPPOSITION TO THE DRAFT
The draft of young Japanese American men did not bring about the closing of the camps and the restoration of the rights and property of Japanese Americans. In protest, many Nisei refused to appear for their physicals or to serve in the military until all their rights of citizenship had been restored. In all, 315 young men refused induction. Of them, 263 were convicted of draft evasion. Many took a stand against the draft even though they knew that physical infirmities or family status would have made them ineligible for induction.
Resistance to the draft was particularly strong at the Heart Mountain and Poston Camps. Sixty-three Nisei members of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee resisted on constitutional grounds. The resisters were tried, convicted and sentenced to three years in federal prison. All appeals failed. In 1947 President Truman pardoned all Japanese Americans who resisted the draft.
JAPANESE AMERICANS IN COMBAT
By wars end, the combined 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed almost entirely of Japanese Americans, was the most decorated U.S. military unit for its size and length of service. Never numbering more than 4,500 men, the 100th/442nd consisted of extraordinarily aggressive fighters. The soldiers of these units earned a total of 18,143 individual decorations and took a casualty rate of 300 percent. The awards included:
1 Congressional Medal of Honor
7 Major Campaign Streamers
7 Presidential Unit Citations
36 Army Commendations
87 Divisional Commendations
Meritorious Service Plaques for Medical
Detachment and Service Company
I Distinguished Service Medal
560 Silver Stars
28 Oak Leaf Clusters (in lieu of a second Silver Star) 22 Legion of Merit Medals
15 Soldier's Medals
4,000 Bronze Stars with
1,200 Oak Leaf Clusters (in lieu of a second Bronze Star)
3,500 Purple Hearts (with 500 additional Oak Leaf Cluster for additional awards)
12 French Croix de Guerre with
2 Palms (in lieu of a second award)
2 Italian Crosses for Military Valor
2 Italian Medals for Military Valor
GO FOR BROKE!
In June 1942 a segregated Nisei unit, composed entirely of volunteers recruited in Hawaii, was sent without its weapons to training at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. Eight months later, the men of the unit, designated the 100th Battalion of the 69th Infantry Division, were moved to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for advanced infantry training.
A second segregated Nisei military unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, was activated at Camp Shelby on February 1, 1943. The original contingent included 1,500 volunteers from the mainland, primarily from the camps, and 3,000 men from Hawaii. All of the American citizen volunteers came to the unit with a draft board rating of 4-C, the designation for an enemy alien, one more denial of the rights of Japanese Americans. The unit's motto was, "Go for Broke."
The 100th Infantry Battalion was declared combat-ready in August 1943, and joined the 34th "Red Bull" Division of the 5th Army in North Africa. After landing at Salerno, Italy, on September 26, 1943, the men of the 100th began establishing their enviable combat record. By early 1944 the 100th had been dubbed the "Purple Heart Battalion," and the gallantry and bravery of its members erased any doubts the U.S. Army might have had about sending the men of the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team to Europe to join the fight against the Germans.
During the final nine months of combat training at Camp Shelby, the 442nd supplied 530 enlisted replacements and 40 officers to replenish the 100th Battalion, already in combat in Europe. The 442nd entered combat, on June 7, 1944 at Anzio. With the men of the I 00th Battalion now attached, the unit remained in combat for the next I I months. The 100th/442nd saw action in Italy, Belgium, southern France, and Germany. At war's end, 680 members of the unit had been killed in action, 67 were missing, and 9,486 Purple Hearts had been awarded for wounds suffered in combat.
Like the Nisei who fought with the 100th/442nd in Europe, some 5,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry became Military Intelligence Service (MIS) language specialists. About 3,700 men were serving in combat zones in the Pacific and in Asia by August 1945. MIS Japanese language specialists served with 130 different army and navy units, with the Marine Corps, and on loan to combat units of England, Australia, China, and New Zealand.
Military Intelligence Service language specialists served both as translators attached to intelligence headquarters in Hawaii, India, and Australia, and with combat units in the field. On-the-spot translations of captured documents, prisoner interrogations, and persuasion of Japanese soldiers and civilians to surrender were among the duties performed under fire by Japanese American intelligence service troops.
The extraordinary combat record of Japanese American troops in Europe, the Pacific, China, Burma, and India underscored the injustice of wartime internment. Praise from their comrades in arms left no room to doubt the bravery and loyalty of the Nisei citizens who had gone overseas while many of their friends and family were held behind barbed wire at home.
"That which happened to the Japanese on the West Coast must not happen again ... it must not happen again to any minority group.... I am convinced that if some form of token justice is not done to the wronged loyal Japanese of the U.S., that the U. S. will be the sufferer in the long run. Not from the Japanese—rather from internal instability and an inability to come to grasp with the horns, threatening, of reality... A frank admission and attempt at retribution will give America more than a thousand "slurring-overs".... I yet maintain, that in Truth there is strength ... a strength that will stand the test of time and endure for the good of all."
Letter from Sgt. Chester Tanaka to friends in St. Louis, November 6, 1944
THE QUEST FOR JUSTICE
By 1946 the U.S. government had released all Japanese Americans incarcerated in the WRA camps. Although the process was gradual, and included aid for retraining and relocation, rejoining society was difficult for many. The postwar housing shortage, the competition with returning veterans for jobs, and persistent discrimination added to their difficulties. Many detainees discovered that their pre-1941 communities had vanished, and their homes and businesses were lost.
As Japanese Americans began to rebuild their lives, they also began a long quest for justice. The first fruits of this campaign came with the passage of the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, which opened the way to citizenship for the Issei, and established a quota system for Asians similar to that for all other immigrants. In addition, some states offered reparations for property losses suffered as a result of Executive Order 9066. It was only a beginning. Japanese Americans were determined to create a public understanding of the injustices they had suffered and to resolve the basic Constitutional issues related to their wartime incarceration.
The wartime experience of Americans of Japanese ancestry holds important lessons for all citizens. Japanese Americans demonstrated the importance of courage in adversity, loyalty to the highest ideals of the U.S. Constitution, and the ability of determined citizens to effect positive change. Through their struggle to ensure that all Americans understand the importance of extending the safeguards and protections of the Constitution to every citizen, regardless of race, color, or creed, they have moved all of us a bit closer to that "More Perfect Union" envisioned by the founders of the nation.
THE CHALLENGE IN THE COURTS
"The Constitution is what the judges say it is."
Charles Evans Hughes, Governor of New York, 1907
Four major court cases testing the constitutionality of wartime treatment of Japanese American citizens reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1943 and 1944. Lawsuits brought by Minoru Yasui, Gordon K. Hirabayashi, and Fred T. Korematsu related to violations of curfew and other discriminatory regulations imposed on Japanese Americans prior to relocation. In these cases, the justices chose to rule narrowly on the specific issues, rather than consider larger Constitutional issues of relocation. Accepting government justifications of national security and military necessity, the Supreme Court refused to block Executive Order 9066 and the programs it generated.
EX PARTE ENDO
The case of Mitsuye Endo related to the legality of relocation. On December 18, 1944, the United States Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision, ruling that Ms. Endo and other internees could not be barred from access to writs of habeas corpus-the Constitution s guarantee of a citizen s right to a swift hearing before a magistrate in which specific accusations would have to be stated.
The public law of March 21, 1942, empowered military authorities to impose a curfew, but did not mention detention. The Court ruled that military authorities had exceeded the scope of the law by imprisoning loyal American citizens. justice William 0. Douglas declared that "lawmakers intended to place no greater restraint on the citizen than was clearly and unmistakably indicated by the language they used."
THE HIGH COURT
U.S Supreme Court Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone and justices Owen J. Roberts, Hugo Black, Stanley Reed, Felix Frankfurter, William 0. Douglas, Frank Murphy, Robert Jackson, and Wiley B. Rutledge ruled on the four cases relating to the wartime treatment of Japanese Americans. The justices were divided over the constitutional issues in question. These differences were reflected in the legal opinions they offered on the Japanese American cases.
"We must credit the military with as much good faith as we would any other public official. We cannot sit in judgment of the military requirements of that hour."
Associate Justice William O. Douglas, Concurring Opinion, Hirabayashi v. U.S., 1943
"The broad provisions of the Bill of rights. . . are [not] suspended by the mere existence of a state of war. Distinctions based on color and ancestry are utterly inconsistent with our traditions and ideals. Today is the first time, so far as I am aware, that we have sustained a substantial restriction of the personal liberty of citizens based on the accident of race or ancestry. It bears a melancholy resemblance to the treatment accorded to members of the Jewish race in Germany This goes to the very brink of constitutional power."
Associate Justice Frank Murphy, Concurring Opinion, Hirabayashi v. U.S., 1943
"This is not a case of keeping people off the streets at night as was Hirabayashi... It is a case of convicting a citizen ... for not submitting to imprisonment in a concentration camp solely because of his ancestry."
Associate Justice Owen J. Roberts, Dissenting Opinion, Korematsu v. U.S., 1944
"[There have to be] definite limits to military discretion, especially where martial law has not been declared. Individuals must not be impoverished of their constitutional rights on a plea of military necessity that has neither substance nor support."
Associate Justice Frank Murphy, Concurring Opinion, Ex Parte Endo , 1944
GOING BACK TO COURT
As early as 1945 Eugene V. Rostow of the Yale Law School Faculty referred to the Supreme Court decision in the Hirabayashi, Korematsu, and Yasui cases as "our worst wartime mistake." "The basic issues," he urged, "should be presented to the Supreme Court again, in an effort to obtain a reversal of these wartime decisions."
In American law, however, the principle of finality normally bars a reconsideration of a Supreme Court decision. Reinterpretation of the Court's decision usually occurs in another case covering the same legal principle. The incarceration of Japanese Americans was, however, a unique event. As a Presidential Commission noted in 1980, "the country has not been so unfortunate that a repetition of the facts has occurred to give the Court that opportunity."
THE COURT CASES AND DECISIONS, 1983-1988
THE CORAM NOBIS CASES
Four decades after the end of World War II, only one course of action was available to those who sought to reverse the 1944 Supreme Court decisions in the Korematsu, Hirabayashi, and Yasui cases. In January 1983, a legal team filed a writ of coram nobis, which seeks to correct an injury caused by a mistake of the court. The writ charged that federal officials had deliberately altered, suppressed, and concealed crucial evidence in prosecuting the case against Fred Korematsu. Similar writs were later filed on behalf of Minoru Yasui and Gordon Hirabayashi.
Minoru Yasui died before action was taken in his case. In 1984, the U.S. District Court for
Northern California set aside Fred Korematsu's 1944 conviction. Three years later, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth District handed down a similar decision in the Hirabayashi case.
As a result of these decisions, the Supreme Court of the United States did not have a opportunity to reverse the original 1944 rulings on the basic constitutional issues involved. Nevertheless, the opinions of the federal judges make it clear that the original decisions in these cases should be regarded as reminders of past injustice, rather than as significant legal precedents.
HOHRI ET AL v. UNITED STATES: A CLASS ACTION SUIT
In March 1983, a class action lawsuit, Hohri et al v. United States, was filed, asking $25.2 billion in damages from the federal government as redress for the wrongs done to Japanese Americans during and after World War II. Lower courts agreed that the government had concealed evidence that contradicted its claims of military necessity when it undertook the forced removal of Japanese Americans.
In the interest of obtaining a final ruling on the wartime cases, federal attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in June 1987 that the suit was barred by both sovereign immunity and the statute of limitations, and, in addition, had been filed in the wrong federal appellate court. The Supreme Court denied a final request for review in October 1988, following passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
REDRESSING THE WRONG
In addition to seeking to correct justice in the courts, Japanese Americans sought legislative redress for the injustice, hardships, and suffering that resulted from wartime incarceration. For these fundamental violations of the basic rights of individuals of Japanese ancestry, the Congress apologized on behalf of the nation.
Much of the impetus for this legislation came from the investigations and report of the Federal Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, working between 1980 and 1982.
Congress established a Federal Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in 1980. Charged with studying the circumstances that had led to the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans, and suggesting possible remedies, the Commissioners heard testimony from 750 witnesses, including former officials of the justice and War Departments, administrators of the relocation program, former camp inmates, and those opposed to any form of compensation or apology to victims of the exclusion and internment. The Commission concluded that the Japanese American internment was a wartime injustice based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership," not on military necessity.
CONGRESS AND THE CIVIL LIBERTIES ACT OF 1988
Bills aimed at providing an apology and financial redress for Japanese Americans incarcerated in U.S. government camps during World War II were introduced in the 96th, 97th, 98th, 99th, and 100th Congresses. Success came with the passage of H.P, 442 by the 100th Congress. On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed that bill, now known as the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, into law. Among its provisions, the new law:
Acknowledged the injustice of the evacuation, relocation, and internment of United States citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry during World War II.
Offered an apology to Japanese Americans on behalf of the people of the United States.
Provided for a public education fund to finance efforts to inform the public about ... internment ... so as to prevent a recurrence of any similar event."
Authorized a redress payment of $20,000 to qualified Japanese Americans who were relocated and interned by the government of the United States.
Offered a similar apology and redress payments to Aleut residents of the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands who were also relocated during World War II.
As of September 1, 1994, ORA had verified and delivered redress payments to more than 79,343 men and women. Current plans call for the redress process to be complete by 1998.
"A MORE PERFECT UNION..."
"America is a land of promise, with wonderful possibilities and a beautiful ideal. And the United States Constitution makes great promises for us ... and Liberty is a very meaningful thing. As we celebrated Miss Liberty's 100th birthday, we realized what it could mean to our people. But we have to be sincere and make it ring true. And so in order to do that, we need to protect this fragile democracy. It depends on human feelings and the quality of leadership and courage of the leaders [who] will determine which way it will go. But the people need to insist... on having courageous leaders, people with integrity, people who are honest, that will hold up the Constitution to the letter."
Mary Tsukamoto, 1987
(Text written and edited in June 1994)